The Syrian President surprised both Turkish and Arab public opinion when he advised Turkey on the importance of cultivating good relations with Israel, as this would allow Turkey to perform the role of mediator between Damascus and Tel Aviv. [Syrian] President Bashar al-Assad made this comment whilst answering a question put to him by the Turkish “Hurriyet” newspaper on whether he approved of Islamic countries having bad relations with Europe and Israel, or whether [Islamic] countries should cultivate good relations with Europe and coexist with Israel.
Assad’s answer was that “if Turkey wishes to help us on the subject of Israel then it must have good relations with this country” adding “otherwise how else can it [Turkey] play a role in the peace process?”
What the Syrian President said is completely true, and the popularity that Turkey has gained as a result of the straining of its relations with Israel is not useful, especially if Ankara wishes to have a role in the peace process and the region’s issues. Of course such issues also include Iran, and this is particularly important as the most recent statements from Turkey made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the Iranian nuclear file revealed a flexibility contrary to that of the Western or Arab position. This surprised many people, and raised concerns over Turkey’s position [towards Iran]. Turkey no longer appears to be holding the middle ground, but exists on one extreme after it came out appearing to defend Iran. It is true that while Arab countries have not publicly objected to the Turkish statements [defending Iran] they remain doubtful about Ankara’s sincerity and the helpfulness of Turkey becoming involved in regional issues.
Therefore Turkey’s position towards Israel, whether its protest on what took place in Gaza or Israel’s intransigence on the peace process, does not mean that the Turks should join the ranks of the frustrated. There is no frustration in politics, only hard work and interests which can be influenced; this is not something that is made more feasible by boycott or chasing after popularity.
Unfortunately, and as politicians know well, the most important decisions are often the most unpopular ones, however it is up to the politicians to discuss these issues and enlighten public opinion on their implications. On the issue of the Turkish position, there are important Turkish issues which must not be affected by this, most notably the Turkish project to join the European Union, especially as part of this is for Turkey to be a bridge between the West and the Arab world.
Therefore the Syrian President did well to give this advice to the Turks publicly rather than behind closed doors, for if Turkey wishes to be helpful and engaged in the issues of the region rather than chasing after popularity, it has no choice but to have an open door policy to everybody, including Israel. This does not mean Turkey throwing themselves into the arms of the Jewish State, nor does it mean throwing themselves into the arms of Iran, for as much hostility as there is in the region towards Israel, there are also fears of Tehran’s intentions.
If Mr. Erdogan wants to play an influential role in the region he has no other choice but to take up the middle ground, otherwise we have nothing more than a long queue of people chasing after popularity and chanting slogans without firing a shot to liberate Arab lands, and even if shots are fired, more often than not they are fired in our direction, rather than towards Israel.